Special committee to form over Va. school name controversy

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — With debates on whether or not to change the contested name of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, the Fairfax County School Board has voted to form a work group that will weigh the pros and cons of renaming the school. J.E.B. Stuart High School is now named after a Confederate general.

The group will consist of students, faculty and alumni, as well as community members to be selected by the superintendent.

Out of those surveyed by the school system that included students, faculty, parents and community members, 56 percent said they were against a name change.

However, several members of the community expressed their support for a name change during a school board meeting Thursday night at Jackson Middle School in Falls Church ahead of the vote to create the work group.

Lina Lenis, a recent graduate of J. E. B Stuart High School, called the name offensive and wanted to see a new name selected.

A current student, Julia Clark, said, “It’s time to leave behind our racist past and move toward a brighter future.”

Others expressed concerns and dismay over the push to change the name.

“By voting ‘yes,’ you become party to the bullying and intimidation by some Stuart faculty, a small number of students and some elected officials,” said Fairfax County resident Denise Patton.

But board member Ryan McElveen countered, “What has happened to the conscience of our school board?” He supports a name change and said he doesn’t believe a work group is necessary in the decision-making process.

McElveen also said he stands with the 35 percent of the school’s community that supported a name change in the survey.

“While the minority should never be ignored, nor should the majority,” said board member Jeanette Hough. She believes there isn’t enough support for a name change.

Among the concerns for several board members and those against the change is the cost of changing the school’s name, which is estimated at just under $700,000. Ways to fund a name change — separate of taxpayer dollars — is also something the committee will examine.

The work group’s role also includes coming up with a solution on how to preserve the school’s history if a new name is selected and is expected to report back to the board in March 2017.

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